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They made the U.S. Olympic team, but did not compete

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The U.S. sent 230 athletes to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but the record book lists 222 competitors.

Eight members of that U.S. Olympic team — the largest by any nation in Winter Games history — did not compete for various reasons.

Some were injured before their event. Others didn’t leave the bench in team sports (one controversially). One more lost an internal competition for a starting spot before the Opening Ceremony.

As the U.S. team of more than 200 athletes for PyeongChang begins to take shape, a look at what happened to those eight from Sochi:

Erik Fisher, Alpine Skiing
Fisher went to both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics but didn’t compete at either Games.

The world’s best Alpine nations often bring more downhill skiers than they have starting spots (four) in the Olympics. Then they use training runs before the medal race to determine who gets the last spot or two behind their top medal favorites.

In 2010, Fisher went to the Olympics with a broken right hand and lost out on the last downhill spot to Steven Nyman.

In 2014, Fisher went to the Olympics with a left knee injury and again lost out to Nyman in training runs.

“I was knocked out in the qualifying run, and the coaches used the last discretion spot for Steven Nyman,” was posted on Fisher’s social media the day of the Sochi Opening Ceremony. “Once again I had to fight thru an injury to try and make the final 4 spots and could not quite do it. I tweaked my knee a few weeks back and had to get a cortisone shot to help fight the pain. Tomorrow I will be getting an MRI to see the damage in left knee. I gave it my all and I’m proud of what I accomplished. It was so amazing to see the support of Family, Friends and the Community. I can’t possibly thank you enough! Nyman is a very good friend of mine and I hope he kills it!”

Fisher last raced in April 2014. The U.S. Alpine team for PyeongChang will be named next month, possibly with skiers who will have to earn starts in training runs.

Allison Pottinger, Curling
After four-person teams win the U.S. Olympic Curling Trials, they typically have a week or two for adding a fifth member as an alternate.

Pottinger qualified for the 2010 Olympics outright and played for Debbie McCormick‘s team in Vancouver. Four years later, Pottinger skipped her own team, made it to the Olympic Trials finals and lost to Erika Brown‘s team. Twelve hours after that, Brown asked Pottinger to be her alternate.

Over the last three Olympics, three of the six alternates for U.S. curling teams ended up playing. Alternates can replace any member of the team before any game and be subbed back out for later games. They can also enter mid-game as injury replacements.

Their duties are scouting other teams and “matching rocks,” throwing competition stones after the completion of play in preparation for the next day’s games to gauge their variance.

During games, alternates typically sit with coaches on a bench about 20 feet from the ice sheet.

While men’s alternate Craig Brown (Erika’s younger brother) did see game action in Sochi, Pottinger did not as Brown’s team went 1-8 and finished last out of 10 teams.

“I thought about it going in, and I kind of set myself with the mindset that I wasn’t going to play,” Pottinger said. “You don’t get your hopes up. I know that sounds bad. I know those girls [on Brown’s team] well enough that they want to play every game. They won to get there [to the Olympics] as a team.”

At least Pottinger had her Olympic competition experience in 2010. She regretted that the alternate on her Vancouver Olympic team — Tracy Sachtjen — didn’t get into a game (that team also finished in last place).

“It wasn’t until literally two ends into the last game where I kind of thought to myself, wait a second [about Sachtjen],” said Pottinger, a 44-year-old who didn’t compete at this year’s trials. “Tracy was our alternate the whole season. We went in [to the Olympic season] as five. So I think that was probably even harder [than 2014].”

The alternates on the U.S. curling teams for PyeongChang are Joe Polo and Cory Christensen.

Jimmy Howard and Brianne McLaughlin, Hockey
Olympic ice hockey rosters expanded to three goalies for the men in 1998 and the women in 2010. Going into Sochi, Howard and McLaughlin looked like the Nos. 3 on the depth chart.

And with only three group games followed by the playoffs, the likelihood is always high that at least one goalie per team will not play in the Olympics.

McLaughlin was the U.S. No. 3 in both 2010 and 2014.

Months before the 2010 Olympics, U.S. coach Mark Johnson chatted one-on-one with McLaughlin, who was the only one of his three goalies who had no previous world championship experience.

“I was told right off the bat, congrats on making the team, but this is not Brianne McLaughlin’s time,” McLaughlin said. “That was my rookie season. I had never been on the national team before. For me it was, just, this is awesome.”

Johnson allowed McLaughlin to dress for a group-play game against lowly China as the backup to Molly Schaus, who was getting a start in place of No. 1 Jessie Vetter.

As McLaughlin walked out of the locker room, she realized she forgot something. Her contacts.

“I was like, oh, whatever, I’m not going to play anyway,” she said. “Ten minutes left in the game [with the U.S. up 10-0] he kicks my butt to get in there.”

The box score lists McLaughlin giving up one goal on two shots.

“I got made fun of for getting scored on for four years,” she said.

McLaughlin hoped to contribute more in Sochi, but she suffered a groin injury about two months before the Olympics that kept her out for weeks. Vetter and Schaus were again the top two goalies, and this time McLaughlin didn’t play.

She spent the epic Sochi women’s overtime final with Canada from a center-ice seat in the stands. She joined the team in the locker room between periods and even ran down late in the third to dress for the medal ceremony.

“I was standing next to the bench with the other [backup] goalie thinking I was going to run out there to get a gold medal,” she said.

Then Canada scored twice in the final 3 minutes, 26 seconds, to tie it and won in overtime. McLaughlin received a second straight silver medal and retired from the national team a year later.

The U.S. men’s and women’s hockey teams — with three goalies each — will be named Jan. 1.

Heidi Kloser, Moguls
The most publicized of the eight U.S. Olympic team members who did not compete in Sochi.

Kloser tore her right ACL and fractured her femur in training before qualifying on the eve of Opening Ceremony. The news really spread after her father’s Facebook post:

We just got down from the Olympic Village ER where Heidi was taken to after a bad fall in her training run prior to tonight’s Olympic qualifier … Heidi’s doing ok, but there’s moments when the reality of it all hits home, she’s a tough one, but this is a tough one to swallow for all of us! When she was in the ambulance, she asked Emily and me if she was still an Olympian…. We said of course she is!

Teammate Hannah Kearney, the 2010 Olympic moguls champion, said that she was also asked by Kloser whether she was an Olympian.

“I actually made the huge mistake of trying to joke with her too soon after it happened. I didn’t realize how serious she was about that (question),” Kearney said of their conversation hours after Kloser’s injury. “I’m like, well, Heidi, I don’t know. You haven’t competed at the Olympics. And she immediately broke down in tears. I was like, OK, that is not the right thing to say to someone who just had their dreams dashed. I only said that because, my God, of course she earned her spot there.”

The next day, Kloser marched in the Parade of Nations — on crutches after being pushed into Fisht Stadium in a wheelchair.

She needed another knee surgery a year later and has mostly competed on the lower-level Nor-Am Cup circuit since. Kloser is not expected to make the PyeongChang Olympic team.

“If I hadn’t been told that I was an Olympian, I would have put my ski boots on, no matter how bad it hurt, and I would have gone through that start gate,” Kloser said in 2014.

Kyle Carr, Short Track Speed Skating
Carr made the Sochi Olympic team not in any individual races, but only as part of the five-man pool for the 5000m relay.

The relay includes four skaters per country. There is a qualifying round and a final, and skaters can be subbed out between. But they don’t have to be, so Carr flew to Russia without a guarantee of competing. Unlike his four U.S. teammates, who each made it in at least one individual event.

Carr was not chosen for the preliminary round but was told he would be inserted for the final, her mother reportedly said in an NBC affiliate interview.

That didn’t happen. A U.S. coach (or coaches) kept the same foursome for the final.

The U.S. won silver in the relay. The gold and bronze nations didn’t use subs, either, but both the U.S. men’s and women’s medal-winning relays used everyone in 2010.

“I walked out and just sobbed, and thought, ‘I hope that coach feels really good about himself. Really good about himself,’” Carr’s mom reportedly told the NBC affiliate at the relay final. “Because that was how many years of a dream that he just ripped out from Kyle’s feet — after telling him for the last how many days that he was skating the final?”

Carr reportedly retired after competing in the relay at the world championships one month later.

This year, another U.S. man made the Olympic team as a relay-only skater, Ryan Pivirotto.

Maggie Voisin, Ski Slopestyle
Voisin was due to become the youngest U.S. athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics since 1972, two months after turning 15.

But she fractured her right fibula in practice on the day of the Opening Ceremony.

The injury didn’t feel serious at first, but reality set after she got an X-Ray for the first time in her life and saw a crack. Voisin had not been told the diagnosis, but she crutched out of the room, sat next to her physical therapist and cried.

Voisin emailed her parents, but as Team USA marched into the Opening Ceremony that night, she didn’t know if they had gotten word. So she thew away her crutches and footed it.

“I wasn’t ready for them to see that,” Voisin said. “I felt like I was letting not just myself down, but my family, which had traveled that entire way to go there.”

Voisin, with a new set of crutches, stuck around for the ski slopestyle event four days later.

She watched from the bottom, her Sochi 2014 bib tied around her waist, as the women who finished directly behind her at the X Games three weeks earlier made up the medal podium. Voisin later framed the bib.

A fire was lit. She wanted to prove — not just at the next Olympics, but the following season — that she was an Olympian.

Her first contest back was in December 2014. Voisin tore her left ACL and meniscus. Another 13 months out of competition. She returned to Montana, continued home school and attended a prom.

Voisin returned for the 2015-16 season. Fourth at X Games. Second at a World Cup at the PyeongChang Olympic venue.

She was the top American in the first two Olympic qualifiers this year, including a victory. And with X Games champ Kelly Sildaru out for the season with a left knee injury, the gold medal is up for grabs.

“I’m going into PyeongChang with that much more motivation,” Voisin said. “I remember sitting in that hospital [in Russia], thinking, I’m going to do whatever it takes to get back to the Olympics.”

Arielle Gold, Snowboard Halfpipe
Gold dislocated her right shoulder in a practice crash the day of qualifying in Sochi. It was popped back in, but she was unable to compete, saying it was the worst pain she ever felt, according to the Denver Post.

The slushy halfpipe conditions were a topic throughout the Games. Gold believed that played a part in her fall, which came hitting a bump near the pipe’s flat bottom.

“The weather was so warm that the snow wasn’t holding up well,” she said earlier this season. “It got dangerous. You couldn’t see where any bumps were. That’s exactly what happened to me.”

Gold posted video of the crash from the non-televised practice a few days later.

“I actually wanted to watch it,” she said. “I was just getting a lot of messages on social media from friends and family back home about what happened. … I figured that it gave people a little context.”

Gold, the 2013 World champion, made it back to the bottom of the course to watch the final, where two of her American teammates won medals.

“That was the hardest part … feeling like I could be right up there in the mix,” she said. “It wasn’t as much about the medal or the result, but being able to compete.”

Gold tries not to think about Sochi too much, not automatically connect it to her potential PyeongChang story, but she cherishes memories.

Watching the U.S.-Russia men’s hockey game that went to a shootout. Being at the Olympics with brother Taylor, who was eliminated in the men’s halfpipe semifinals. She saved her team gear and an Olympic ring that all U.S. Olympians receive.

Gold is in decent position to make the PyeongChang Olympic team through two of four qualifiers, but she may have to hold off reigning X Games champion Elena Hight and 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter.

“Sometimes when I look back on Sochi, a lot of it was, I was a little bit starstruck and didn’t realize I was there. It didn’t seem real,” said Gold, who was 17 years old then. “I hope this time around, if I qualify, I can make the most of the experience.”

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MORE: List of athletes qualified for U.S. Olympic team

Hallelujah! Mariah Bell strikes secret chord with mentor Adam Rippon

Mariah Bell and Adam Rippon
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Mariah Bell hit the final pose of her “Hallelujah” free skate in Greensboro, North Carolina on Friday night and couldn’t hold back her tears. The 23-year-old skater had just had the performance of her life at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

When Bell reached the kiss-and-cry, the first person she hugged wasn’t Rafael Arutunian, her coach since 2016, but former training partner Adam Rippon. A jubilant Rippon thrust Bell’s arm up in the air in triumph. As her score – a whopping 225.21 points, good for a silver medal – flashed up, he repeated the gesture.

“Adam has been such a major part of my success this year,” Bell said. “He’s completely changed my outlook on training. … To have that moment with him here was so special. I was hoping something like this would happen, because he deserved to have that moment, too.”

Considering all of the irons Rippon has in the fire, he is an unlikely candidate to be a coach, even part-time. Since the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, the personable 2016 U.S. champion is in high demand for reality TV, hosting and comedy gigs. He crossed the country promoting his autobiography, Beautiful on the Outside: A Memoir. But something was missing.

“After the Olympics, my plan was always to work with Rafael,” Rippon said shortly before the ladies’ free skate in Greensboro. “Then, I had a lot of opportunities come my way. One of my dreams was always to do what I do now, to be involved in comedy. I’ve always done it off the ice, and I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll just be the funniest person at the party.’ But when I got to do it as a job, it was a dream come true.

“Still, I felt I learned so much as a skater, because I was so self-directed, with Rafael’s help. Part of me that thought, ‘I can still help.’”

So after U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp last August, Rippon teamed up with the talented Bell, then a U.S. bronze medalist known for her on-ice sparkle as well as occasional inconsistency. With his help, she had her best Grand Prix season ever, winning two bronze medals.

As Rippon tells it, the key was helping Bell work harder and smarter on the ice.

“She needed to switch her mindset,” Rippon said. “What she thought was hard work, I thought of as a light day. Her hard work was what I considered a warm-up.”

After Champs Camp, the Los Angeles-based Rippon had two weeks free, so he visited Bell at their training rink in Irvine, California for three hours each day. There, he sharpened her work ethic.

“All of a sudden I was (telling her), ‘You’re going to do a double toe, double loop at end of every jump, or a triple toe at the end of every jump,’” he recalled. “It was just challenging her in a way she hasn’t been challenged before, so that when she got to the competition the pressure was much less.”

Rippon created a training plan with Bell, charting everything from workouts to breaks to program run-throughs.

“We did this, so that when she got to a competition, she could look down on the paper and say, ‘Look at all of the stuff I did; I’m ready,’” he said. “She could just go and enjoy it.”

After the two-week period following Champs Camp, the busy Rippon could only work with Bell three or four times a month. The two stayed connected via frequent telephone conversations and videos.

Then, a few weeks before Greensboro, both Rippon and choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne visited Irvine to help Arutunian prepare Bell for the U.S. Championships.

“We did a lot of work before nationals, running and polishing programs,” Rippon said. “I think Shae-Lynn is one of the best, if not the best, choreographer working today. So yes, I did the choreography of Mariah’s short (set to a Britney Spears medley), but when Shae-Lynn is there, you take advantage.”

Rippon’s strategy, along with Bourne’s choreography and Arutunian’s technical expertise, paid off big time. On Friday, Bell landed six clean triples, including a triple Lutz, triple toe loop, in a stirring free skate choreographed by Bourne to “Hallelujah.”

“Mariah took my advice and she worked hard and she transformed herself,” Rippon said. “She’s one of the oldest ladies in the competition, and she’s kind of having a renaissance, and I relate to that. I felt like that happened to me, too. At the end of my career, I that I was in the best headspace.”

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

Despite the success, Rippon isn’t planning to expand his coaching to other skaters. He’s too busy with a new project, developing content for Quibi, a short-form mobile video platform.

“It’s my biggest thing right now,” Rippon said. “Everything on the platform is 10 minutes or less. I sold them a show and we started filming last week. I just had this week off, because I asked to go to nationals.”

It’s a comedy show, of course, with Rippon, other comedians and celebrity guests poking fun at the events of the day.

“We do a review of whatever idiotic thing happened,” he said. “It will be funny. I’m very excited.”

But no matter how successful this project, or the next, becomes, Rippon will never abandon figure skating.

“(Quibi) is my work,” he said. “When I have days off, I come to the rink  and I get to work with Mariah, and that’s sort of my relaxation. I reconnect to my roots.”

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MORE: Alysa Liu unflappable under intense pressure to successfully defend national title

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Alysa Liu unflappable under intense pressure to successfully defend national title

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Not long before Alysa Liu was to take the ice as the last of 18 women to do her free skate Friday night at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the 14-year-old sat amidst the comings and goings and general commotion of a hallway leading to the ice. She had ear buds in place, munched on an apple and watched the skater who preceded her, Mariah Bell.

By the time Liu reached the Greensboro Coliseum rink for her final warmup moments, the ice surface was littered with stuffed animals, a form of tribute to an outstanding skater, and packed with the flower girls who pick them up. It was also awash with noise from an audience saluting the brilliant skating Bell had just done, an elegant, near flawless performance to k.d. Lang’s haunting interpretation of the emotionally powerful Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah.”

With the crowd’s reaction roaring in her now open ears, Liu weaved through the girls and the plushies in what seemed an eternity before the announcement of Bell’s scores. Liu waited and glided around with an aplomb that is just one of the many extraordinary parts of the personality of this 10th grader who last year had become the youngest U.S. senior champion in history.

In the crowd, 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano watched with his coach, Linda Leaver, trying to see how Liu would react to what could be a discomfiting, pressurized situation.

“When she came out, I said to Linda, ‘Welcome to the big leagues, girl,’” Boitano said. “I thought it was really a sign of a champion she was smiling, and she was relaxed.”

And when her four minutes of skating to “Illumination” by composer-pianist Jennifer Thomas was over, Liu had moved into a league of her own in the United States.

“I was very happy for Mariah,” Liu said. “I didn’t get nervous or excited. I was kind of like, ‘Okay, she did well, and I also have to do well.’”

Capitalizing on the high values of her difficult jumps, Liu skated so well she won her second title by more than 10 points, with 235.52 to Bell’s 225.81. Bradie Tennell, who led Liu by 3.56 points and Bell by 5.74 after the short program, dropped to third (220.86) after mistakes on her final two jumping passes, including a fall on the last.

As they had done last year, Bell and Tennell had to lend their arms to help Liu ascend the top step of the podium for the awards ceremony, a delightfully ironic circumstance given how the 4-foot, 10-inch Liu towers above them in competition.

“It’s so exciting,” said Liu’s coach, Laura Lipetsky. “I’m so proud of her and happy for her. She really wanted to do well.

“She just blocked out what was going on beforehand and did her job.”

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

Liu went into the free skate with a technical base value advantage of more than 16 points over both Bell and Tennell. She made the most of it by executing all but one of the 12 elements very well, failing only on her attempt to be the first woman to land a quadruple jump at nationals.

Her quadruple Lutz was called under-rotated and produced her only negative Grade of Execution. Both Liu’s triple Axels were solid, and her final two spins were of surpassing quality.

Liu said she had begun preparing for one potential psychological hurdle as soon as she saw the free skate draw: the guaranteed 40-minute gap between the end of the final group warmup and the time she was to skate. But she handled just as coolly the unexpected – the crowd reaction to Bell, whose only error was an under-rotated triple Lutz, and her own hard fall earlier in the day.

Liu’s fall had come on a quad Lutz attempt at the end of her final practice, some seven hours before her free skate. It was the last thing she did in that practice, running out of time before she could try another jump.

Some skaters are rattled by a competition-day practice that ends in such a failure, especially if it stings physically. Liu just shook it off.

“I have fallen like that before so it wasn’t like, ‘Omigosh, what am I going to do?’” Liu said. “I guess I knew how to recover from that and focus on other things. I relaxed the rest of the day and iced it so it wouldn’t hurt any more. I just didn’t let that fall get to me.”

Liu joined Ashley Wagner (2012-13) as the only women to win consecutive women’s national titles since Michelle Kwan won her last of eight straight in 2005.

“Last year was more special because it was my first,” Liu said. “This year, I’m just as excited. I’m thinking, ‘It’s a new decade, wow, what a good start.’”

This year is different because her competitive season does not end at nationals.

In 2019, when she was 13, Liu fell below the age minimum for even the Junior World Championships. (U.S. Championships do not have that rule.) Liu will be able to compete at the 2020 Junior World Championships this March in Estonia, but she is not eligible for senior international events until the 2021-22 season – the next Olympic season.

This was her first junior season internationally. She has won a silver medal at the Junior Grand Prix and won two Junior Grand Prix events. But Liu faces formidable competition now and in the future from what seems like an endless stream of young Russians doing quads and triple Axels.

“I am aware a lot of skaters around the world are getting these difficult jumps, and I’m just trying to keep up,” she said.

In Year Two of the Liu Dynasty in America, she has become the youngest to win consecutive national titles and, earlier in the season, the first U.S. woman to land a quadruple jump in competition. She is the only U.S. woman to do those difficult jumps.

“I just want to keep improving and hopefully make history along the way,” Liu said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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MORE: Gracie Gold in tears at figure skating nationals after emotional comeback

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.